Because little is known about the interactions between herbal products and standard medications, the effects of seven ginsenosides and two eleutherosides (active components of the ginseng root) on the catalytic activity of c-DNA expressed cytochrome P450 isoforms were studied in in vitro experiments. Increasing concentrations of ginsenosides Rb1, Rb2, Rc, Rd, Re, Rf, and Rg1 and eleutherosides B and E were incubated with a panel of recombinant human CYP isoforms (CYP1A2, CYP2C9, CYP2C19, CYP2D6 and CYP3A4) and their effects on the conversion of specific surrogate substrates measured fluorometrically in a 96-well plate format. For each test substance, the IC50 (the concentration required to inhibit the metabolism of the surrogate substrates by 50%) was estimated and this value compared with that obtained for positive control inhibitory drugs furafylline, sulfaphenazole, tryanylcypromine, quinidine, and ketoconizole. Of the components tested, three ginsenosides (Rd, Rc, and Rf) modified the activity of the recombinant enzymes. Ginsenoside Rd produced weak inhibitory activity against the surrogate substrates for CYP3A4 and CYP2D6 and even weaker inhibitory activity against the surrogate substrates for CYP2C19 and CYP2C9. The IC50 values of 58 and 74 uM for the two substrates for CYP3A4 are orders of magnitude higher than that for the potent inhibitor ketoconazole used as a positive control. Ginsenoside Rc produced an increase in the activity of CYP2C9 (70% at 200 uM) and ginsenoside Rf produced an increase in the activity of CYP3A4 (54% at 200 uM). The biological significance of this is unclear at this time. Enzyme "activation", the process by which direct addition of one compound to an enzyme enhances the rate of reaction of the substrate, has been observed in a number of cases with P450 enzymes; however, a matrix effect caused by the test compound fluorescing at the same wavelength as the metabolite of the marker substrate cannot be ruled out. In summary, these studies suggest that the ginsenosides and eleutherosides tested are not likely to inhibit the metabolism of coadministered medications in which the primary route of elimination is via cytochrome P450; the potential of ginsenosides to enhance the catalysis of certain substrates requires further investigation.